“Cash in: To withdraw from a venture by or as if by settling one’s account.”
Paul Offit would like the world to see him as a champion of children’s health and a disinterested observer of controversial issues in autism and vaccine safety. In the view of many in the autism community, he is the worst kind of partisan: a Merck-made millionaire, a determined propagandist for expanding the medical industry’s vaccine profit pool and an active opponent of the need to stop the autism epidemic in its tracks. I will confess my own bias up front: like many autism parents, I hope and trust that history will bestow the fullest possible measure of shame on Offit, a man who so richly deserves it.
But lest we ever risk losing the central point here, it’s worth stating clearly: Paul Offit has made millions of dollars in the vaccine industry he so zealously promotes, in books, in articles and in media appearances. His conflicts of interest are not only obvious, they are florid.
I went into further detail on Offit’s ongoing financial stake in Rotateq® in a recent report, “the Offit Index” (see HERE ). This report was based on an important disclosure Offit made to reporter Amy Wallace in late 2009. According to Wallace, “Offit acknowledges that he received a payout — ‘several million dollars, a lot of money’ …last year…He continues to collect a royalty each year.” When we wrote “Counting Offit’s Millions,” this annual royalty was the most difficult piece of Offit’s cash flow to estimate. Because of its size and importance, I wrote “The Offit Index” to further characterize the Offit’s ongoing annual royalty payments and how they might vary going forward based on Rotateq®’s commercial trajectory.
Shortly after we published “The Offit Index,” Offit responded indirectly yet again, making another new and surprising revelation to a friendly blogger. In an email the blogger claimed to receive, Offit wrote, “Just for the record: I no longer financially benefit from the sales of RotaTeq. My financial interests in that vaccine have been sold out by either The Wistar Institute, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia [CHOP], or me.”
One word in this sentence, “me”, provided important new information. In “Counting Offit’s Millions” we described in some detail the sale of royalty streams by Wistar and CHOP. But the report that Offit’s “financial interests in that vaccine have been sold out by…me” was entirely new.
So between his interview with Amy Wallace in October 2009 and January 2011, Offit cashed in, effectively settling his account with Merck on Rotateq®. How did that account turn out when all was said and done? In brief, here’s a recap of what we know about the millions Offit has received from Merck, including an estimate of the last piece of cash Offit may have received on his own recent sale.
1. The CHOP payout from the Royalty Pharma sale-- $6.2 million. On April 24, 2008, CHOP sold its royalty interest in Rotateq® for $182 million to Royalty Pharma. The vaccine’s three inventors shared roughly 10% of the proceeds, with Offit’s share coming to slightly less than $6.2 million according to our calculations. This was the “several million dollars, a lot of money” that Offit acknowledged receiving to Amy Wallace.
2. Royalty payouts from CHOP prior to the Royalty Pharma sale-- $0.5 million. One thing Offit didn’t disclose to Amy Wallace was that Royalty Pharma only purchased the rights to CHOP’s royalty stream “from and after October 1, 2007.” That means that Offit received a share of royalty payments from Merck to CHOP that occurred before the Royalty Pharma deal: revenue from Rotateq®’s introduction in early 2006 through the third quarter of 2007. We estimated that Offit’s share of this revenue stream came to roughly $450,000.
3. The Wistar payout from the Paul Capital Royalty Fund-- $2.3 million. On December 15, 2005, The Wistar Institute sold a portion of its Rotateq® royalty to Paul Capital for $45 million. In this deal, the inventor share was set at to 15%, higher than the CHOP deal, giving Offit a 5% share of the Wistar payout, or $2.25 million.
4. Royalty payouts from the royalty stream that Wistar did not sell to Paul Capital--$1.0 million. The Wistar Institute’s deal with Paul Capital gives it an ongoing interest in Merck’s Rotateq® program, and Offit was entitled to 5% of these ongoing royalties as well. Assuming that Offit held onto these rights through the end of 2009 (a reasonable assumption since Amy Wallace reported in her October 2009 article that Offit “continues to receive a royalty each year”), we then estimated that Offit earned an additional $1 million in royalty payments via Wistar through the end of 2009.
5. Offit’s payout from the sale of his Wistar royalty stream--$7.5 million est. ($3-20 million range). Sometime between Offit’s interview with Amy Wallace in late 2009 and his disclosure last month that his “financial interests in that vaccine have been sold out by…me,” Offit completed a new transaction. He sold off his rights to a revenue stream that we estimated could come to anything from $3-25 million, depending on the commercial success of Rotateq®. It was this royalty stream--Offit’s ongoing interest in Merck’s commercial fortunes--that prompted me to write “The Offit Index.” Now, it appears, Offit has cashed in his Merck account and withdrawn from the Rotateq® venture, a disclosure that (sadly, because it would have been fun to track) eliminates the need for “The Offit Index.”
But, as is his tendency, Offit did not disclose the amount of this sale. How much might it have been? If we take the simplest approach and set the value of the Wistar royalty equal to the CHOP royalties (roughly $195 million if one adds pre-October 2007 royalties to the Royalty Pharma payment of $182 million), then Offit might have received $7.5 million on this final sale (or 5% of the CHOP benchmark of $195 million less the $45 million Wistar received from Paul Capital).
Adding it all up, we can summarize just how rich Rotateq® has made Offit. At a minimum, Offit earned $10 million from Merck through 2009. On top of this, Offit has now cashed in another bonus that is likely worth millions after selling off his remaining position. The simplest calculation (the real number could be higher or lower, only Offit knows for sure) of $7.5 million puts one estimate of Offit’s total yield on Rotateq® at over $17 million.
That’s almost certainly among the largest amounts ever paid to a vaccine inventor, placing Offit in a category all his own. Offit likes to think all of this money is just a happy dividend, “a fluke” as he told Amy Wallace, of his life’s work protecting children from infectious disease. But for autism parents, these millions are Exhibit A in the case for Offit as a shill, the vaccine industry’s most prolific propagandist.
Mark Blaxill is Editor at Large for Age of Autism.